My best guess is that the Club for Growth has really put the fear of God into everyone, but maybe there’s more to it. ~Matt Yglesias
Surely that can’t be Yglesias’ best guess. Yglesias does raise the interesting point that the remaining House GOP members aren’t just conservatives in safe districts that have been gerrymandered to keep the representatives from facing any real competition. He mentions several Californian Republicans in the House who only narrowly won re-election. One might argue that the smart thing for representatives in evenly-divided districts to do would be to hedge their bets and occasionally side with the President most of their constituents voted for, but there are several other factors at work that really have nothing to do with the Club or other interest groups.
Take Dan Lungren, for example. Lungren re-entered the House in 2004 in the wake of the Club’s opposition to him in the primary (no doubt another example of the Club’s mastery of political tactics), so his fear of the Club is probably not very great. Their opposition to him was not rooted in objections to his positions on their agenda items, but on more basic political concerns about electability, in which they were proven entirely wrong. More recently, Lungren became the token leader of the anti-Boehner forces in the conference at the last leadership election after the ’08 drubbing, and thus positioned himself as someone hostile to the status quo inside the House GOP and therefore more in alignment with the most consistent opponents of continued government expansion. That is, Lungren effectively aligned himself with the members of the House GOP who could not be easily accused of succumbing to Bush on fiscal matters.
In practice, this means that Lungren has every incentive to position himself as a more consistent opponent of Obama’s policies than members of the current leadership. Because of the compromised record of House GOP leaders in conservative eyes, the pressure to resist Obama’s agenda is likely coming as much from the backbenchers as it is from an unimaginative House leadership. This is all a function of intra-conference and intra-California GOP politics. Outside interest groups may encourage Lungren to go in the direction he’s already been going, but they are not the reason why Lungren has done these things. Lungren has long been one of the champions of the conservative bloc in the California GOP dating back to his days as AG as a rival to Pete Wilson, so there is no real advantage for someone like Lungren to break with party leadership and accommodate the administration. The nature of the California state electorate is such that no Lungren-style Republican is electable at the state level any longer, so Lungren no longer has realistic chances of higher statewide office to serve as a brake on his instincts to resist the administration all the time. The survivors of ’06 and ’08 are probably more likely to take their escape from both anti-GOP waves as vindication, and they may now believe that the worst is over.